Tags: Bush | and | Gore | Lawyers | Argue | Over | Dimpled

Bush and Gore Lawyers Argue Over Dimpled Ballots

Tuesday, 21 November 2000 12:00 AM

Despite finishing oral arguments Monday, Republican lawyers filed a new brief Tuesday asking that the Democrat court not set standards for judging ballots that showed marks or "dimples" but no hole on the punch-out section beside the candidate's name.

Lawyers for Democrat Al Gore responded immediately that it was critical for the court to offer uniform guidance to counties on these so-called dimpled ballots.

Two weeks after the election, the issue is of critical importance because hand recounts in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami Dade counties already have uncovered hundreds of potential additional votes that were dimpled but not punched. Such ballots were not recorded as votes by the previous machine counts. If the court rules these ballots in order, Gore stands a much better chance of overcoming the 930-vote statewide lead held by Republican George W. Bush.

Gore has so far picked up about 200 votes in the hand counts going on around the state. However, if dimpled ballots are counted, his gain would be much greater. In Palm Beach County alone, for instance – with 170 out of 531 precincts recounted – 557 dimpled ballots have been set aside as potential Gore votes, while only 260 dimpled Bush ballots have been collected.

Whoever wins the race for Florida's 25 electoral votes likely will have enough to win the presidency when the Electoral College meets Dec. 18, and the outcome of the Florida court case therefore likely will determine the next president.

The issue of how disputed ballots will be counted – or whether any hand recounts will be included in the state's final vote tally – remained before the Supreme Court, which by Tuesday afternoon had given no indication of when it might rule.

The Supreme Court during Monday's oral arguments gave brief attention to the issue of reading supposed voter "intent" into improperly marked ballots. The issue was raised in an appeal by Democrat-ruled Broward County seeking guidance on its manual recount, and the Gore team discussed the issue in its brief to the court, but the Bush brief was silent on the question.

On Tuesday, however, Bush's attorneys filed a brief arguing that the court does not have the authority to rule on how to count improperly punched ballots.

"The court is without power to decide this question of ballot standards because there is no case before them raising the question. Moreover, this is an intensely fact-bound question, and there is no existing Florida law on this question. It would thus be particularly inappropriate to decide this question in this legal and evidentiary vacuum," the Bush attorneys argued.

Gore's lawyers replied: "At no time before today did Gov. Bush's counsel suggest that the issue was not properly before the court or should not be resolved promptly. On the contrary, Gov. Bush's counsel … argued strenuously that the application of different or inconsistent standards [in the various counties] raised serious constitutional problems, problems that Gov. Bush now asks this court to ignore."

The court largely has cleared its decks to focus all of its attention on the disputed presidential election, court officials said, but that did not necessarily mean it would be able to resolve the entire matter with its eagerly awaited ruling.

According to court spokesman Craig Waters, after hearing oral arguments for more than two hours Monday, the seven Supreme Court justices stayed late to discuss the case and returned to the court early Tuesday to resume deliberations. The justices Monday repeatedly expressed concern about ensuring an end to the state's disputed election before Dec. 12, when electors must be reported to the Electoral College. But Waters said Tuesday there is "no timetable" for the justices to rule in the case.

Nevertheless, the justices clearly have focused nearly all of their attention on this case. The court has a few oral arguments scheduled for next week, and some attorneys are focusing on those cases, but otherwise the court has a light caseload and has no other high-profile matters vying for its attention, Waters said.

Tuesday the justices took a break from deliberations to attend the ceremonies in the legislature for the swearing in of new members of the state House and Senate. They returned to the court at around noon.

Waters said the justices were not necessarily in direct consultation at all times. While he said he was not privy to the deliberations on this case, the usual procedure was for the justices to discuss the arguments, then name one judge to draft a majority opinion. Dissenting justices may offer a separate opinion, and deliberations continue by phone or in person until the court reaches a majority view.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Despite finishing oral arguments Monday, Republican lawyers filed a new brief Tuesday asking that the Democrat court not set standards for judging ballots that showed marks or dimples but no hole on the punch-out section beside the candidate's name. Lawyers for Democrat...
Tuesday, 21 November 2000 12:00 AM
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